Carved Image of a Naga
Item No. 11184
19th Century, Buddhist, Burma
Lacquer over Wood
32" x 16" x 7.5"
( 81.28 x 40.64 x 19.05 cm)
(H x W x D)
This antique carving represents a naga that was originally the head of a fully delineated animal that served as stand for a gong. It is masterfully carved and is covered in lacquer and gilt with inlays of glass mirrors and cut glass “jewels”. The teeth, which are bared, are mother of pearl inlay.
Throughout Southeast Asia, the naga is depicted as a serpent or dragon like figure that is considered a semi divine creature. It is the symbol of abundance, and is perceived as the guardian of the earth’s waters. Because of its shape and its association with renewal, the naga is an emblem of fertility and is thought to bring plentiful harvests and many children. Nagas are often incorporated as architectural adornments in and around houses, shrines and temples and are thought to protect the buildings and their contents. Great effort is placed on enhancing religious and ceremonial sites with objects of consummate beauty such as nagas.
Nagas have long been worshiped in both Buddhist and Hindu Asia. Dwelling in the underground recesses, they are believed to be the keepers of the life energy that is stored in springs, wells, and pools. They bestow prosperity, heal sickness, and grant wishes. As such they are held in great awe and veneration. Serpents and naga like creatures are also associated with a number of events in the life of the Buddha. They are portrayed in the birth and lustration of the infant Siddhartha as serpent kings pouring water over his head as he stands on a lotus. The meditating Buddha is protected and sheltered by the serpent/naga king Muchalinda during a great and cold seven day storm in the sixth week after Enlightenment when Muchalinda Buddha seven times with his coils and extends his hood to cover the meditating Buddha.
The naga is one of the “Eight Planets” designs in Burmese astrology rooted in ancient Hindu beliefs. Burmese astrology names the seven days of the week and the directional points of the compass after the planets, which are represented pictorially by animal motifs. Pagodas in Burma have eight planetary prayer posts, one at each of the cardinal and intercardinal directions where people go and pray according to the day of the week on which they were born. The naga represents Saturday, the planet Saturn and the southwest direction. On arrival at a pagoda, a person may bathe the Buddha image and offer flowers at this “birthday post.” He may then proceed to the other posts and conclude his devotions with “May those born on the Seven days be well and happy.”